Survivor Testimony: SB 20-102 Patient Notification Policy
Submitted by Alison McCarthy to CO Senate Judiciary Committee on February 5, 2020:
“Good afternoon Mr. Chair and members of the committee. My name is Alison McCarthy and I am a survivor of sexual abuse by a medical professional. I am here today representing myself in support of SB20-102 concerning required disclosures to patients regarding formal actions based on sexual misconduct.
When I was sixteen years old, I wanted to do the responsible thing and my mother scheduled my first gynecological exam. The doctor I saw was friendly enough, and I went into my appointment trusting that he would be a respectful, qualified physician. During the appointment, I was alone with him. I was not given a robe and was touched inappropriately during the pelvic exam. It was painful and I felt incredibly uncomfortable. Additionally, he submitted me to a mammogram, even though I was so young and there was no reason for this procedure – I didn’t know it then, but it was simply an excuse to continue touching me.
Because it was my first time, and this man was a doctor in a position of trust, I didn’t know that what was happening was wrong. My mother had explained to me that these exams were uncomfortable, and I assumed this is what she’d meant. I didn’t tell anyone what I’d experienced. This situation had the unfortunate effect of teaching me to expect pain and discomfort with physical intimacy, and it made it that much harder for me to recognize sexual assaults as such later on. But even if my conscious mind didn’t know what had happened, my body knew. I avoided seeking healthcare services for a long time, and it wasn’t until I worked up the courage to go again, this time with a different medical professional, that I realized how wrong that first experience was. That I realized I’d been taken advantage of, and sexually abused by a medical professional. That realization was a hard one, and made me question many experiences over the years. Additionally, I found out he did the same thing to a friend of mine around the same time. And it makes me wonder, how many of us are there?
If someone has the wherewithal and courage to speak up about abuse at the hands of a medical professional, passing proactive patient notification is a way to honor that courage. To give others a chance to make informed decisions about their medical care, and to feel safe when seeking care. Senate Bill one zero two could help prevent the type of experience I had.
The assumption may be that a public database with information about previous misconduct is enough to prevent medical sexual abuse. But before I was told about this bill, I’d never even heard of this database. We need to do better and provide proactive patient notification to prevent victimization from happening over and over again, unchecked.
For these reasons, I support SB20-102 and urge a “yes” vote from the committee. Thank you for your time this afternoon, I am open to any questions the committee may have. ”
Submitted by Katherine Bulthuis to CO Senate Judiciary on February 5, 2020:
“Good afternoon Chairman Lee and Members of the Committee. My name is Katherine Bulthuis and I am a survivor of sexual abuse by a medical professional. I am here today representing myself in support of SB20-102.
I have a condition called interstitial cystitis (IC) which basically means I have an ulcer in my bladder. The surrounding muscles tense when the bladder is injured and tense so much that they spasm. This can make vaginal penetration extremely painful. Before I knew I had IC, I was experiencing a great deal of pain which led me to see a doctor. The doctor started by performing a pap smear. I had never had a pap smear before so I didn’t know what to expect. Before he used the speculum, he began fondling my vulva; it felt violating and sexual, but since I had never had a pap smear before, I was uncertain whether that was typical or not (after having pap smears performed by other doctors it became obvious that he violated me). When he began using the speculum, I screamed in pain. He asked, “Are you actually in pain or are you just uncomfortable?” I screamed back “I’m in pain!” but he didn’t stop and continued until he was done.
For days afterwards, I was unable to walk up the stairs and could only crawl up them. It hurt to sit and I needed a cane to walk at a normal pace. Although this happened years ago, I still have anxiety seeing new doctors – I recently had a cough that lasted several weeks and never saw a doctor because it gave me too much anxiety. The coughing strained my bladder and now I’m dealing with an IC flare-up. Additionally, the physical therapy exercises I need to do to calm a flare-up, trigger memories of the doctor who molested me and that prevents me from doing them. Instead, I need a heating pad to calm painful muscle spasms during class. This draws unwanted attention and questions from classmates and professors which constantly triggers memories of being molested.
I didn’t realize I had been sexually assaulted. I just knew I felt violated by how he touched me. I didn’t know there was a formal complaint process that I could have accessed. Instead, I sent him a letter explaining how inappropriate his behavior was, hoping he would understand the harm he caused me so he wouldn’t do the same thing to others.
If SB 20-102 had been law during this time, I might have reported what happened because SB20-102 requires notification of sexual misconduct and contact information of the licensing board. This notification also could have prevented me from seeing this doctor in the first place.
A doctor like this who does not take his patients’ pain seriously and fondles their patients’ genitalia during a pap smear should lose his license.
I don’t know if the letter I wrote to this doctor prevented sexual abuse of other patients but I’m hoping that testifying before this committee will.
For these reasons, I support SB20-102 and I ask that you vote “yes” to pass this important policy. Thank you for your time, I am open to any questions the committee may have.”